Tonight's game between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Mississippi Rebels is pregnant with possibilities for both teams. Ole Miss is trying to remain undefeated and atop the SEC, and is on one of its best runs in many years at 17-2 overall and 6-0 in the SEC.
Conversely, Kentucky finds itself in the unusual position of needing a win against a top 50 RPI team to provide an anchor for getting invited to the NCAA Tournament, should it fail to win a berth there outright. It is somewhat unusual to find Ole Miss in the position of being a résumé enhancer and even more unusual for Kentucky's résumé to need ehnhancing at this point in the season, but that's exactly the dark place the Wildcats inhabit at the moment.
Kentucky's series with the Rebel Black Bears, or just plain Rebels as we know them, stretches back into antiquity. UK and Ole Miss have met 112 times since 1925 in an almost unbroken streak of games between ancient conference foes. Kentucky has been the victor in 99 of the encounters, with Mississippi winning 13 (Via BigBlueHistory.net)
|Rank and Records||UK||MISS|
|Strength of Schedule||#66||#130|
|RPI Top 50||0-4||1-2|
Kentucky has played a much tougher schedule, but hasn't succeeded at it very well.
Ole Miss Roster
The leading scorer for the Rebels, of course, is Henderson, the much-talked-about Mississippi shooting guard who currently leads the SEC in scoring (19.2 ppg) and is first in the league and third in the nation in made 3-point shots. Henderson is a volume shooter, shooting only 36% while taking over 30% of the Rebels shots.
Henderson is a JUCO transfer from Texas, and this is his first year in the SEC. He is a major threat not only for his play, but for his on-court antics that have earned him more fame than anything else.
Murphy Holloway is still the anchor for this team inside. He is the second leading scorer (14.8 ppg) and leading rebounder (10.4 rpg), and one of the best offensive rebounders in the country, pulling down 13.3% offensive rebounds. His front-court mate Reginald Buckner is also an excellent offensive rebounder as well as a solid shot blocker, averaging nearly 3 blocks per game.
As you can see, these teams are very even, with UK shooting the ball better, Ole Miss taking better care of it, and also getting to the line more. They shoot free throws only slightly better than UK, though.
One of the most notable things about Ole Miss is their experience. With the exception of Summers and White, who are sophomores, the rest of the Rebel starting five are upperclassmen. Ole Miss only has 1 freshman, Millinghouse, seeing serious minutes in the rotation. The Rebels play fundamentally an eight player rotation, although it's not unusual for them to throw in a freshman for a few minutes to make it nine.
Ole Miss is a man-to-man team, and while I would not be shocked to see any team trot out a zone against Kentucky, Andy Kennedy eschews the zone almost as much as John Calipari. Defensively, the Rebels are very good, particularly against the 3-point shot. The trouble is, Kentucky has shot so poorly from three in conference (31.8%) that Ole Miss might not need it.
Where Kentucky has really struggled of late is turning the ball over, and Ole Miss is tops in the league at taking care of the basketball. Kentucky has also been extremely inefficient on offense lately, as well as defense, and Mississippi is better in both areas. Kentucky shoots the ball better from 2-point range, but the Rebels shoot it better from the arc, and are really getting to the line a lot.
Kentucky's perimeter defense will have to be solid, but also the interior defense. Ole Miss is every bit as athletic as Kentucky, so there are no real advantages in this game for the Wildcats. The rebels will still have to worry about Noel in the paint, but Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress are really going to have their hands full guarding Marshall and Holloway.
This game is picked at around +3 for Kentucky, which means that the Wildcats are definitely good enough to knock off the Rebels at home. That will be difficult, though, because the Rebels have yet to drop a game in the Tad Pad this year, whereas Kentucky has not played well on the road. This will have to be the first time if they want to win this important contest.